There’s no denying that video game trailers are supposed to get people excited about upcoming new titles, so understandably developers and publishers try to do everything in their power to make them as appealing as possible.
This could mean including high-speed action sequences with an adrenaline-inducing soundtrack or maybe some emotional scenes from the game’s narrative that the audience may be able to empathise with.
Regardless of the content, the ultimate aim of a trailer is always to capture the interest of its targeted demographic, so a publisher’s marketing team always does their best to include the type of content that they feel will best resonate with this target audience.
Recently, Sony was criticised for displaying trailers for The Last of Us Part 2 and Detroit Become Human at their press conference at Paris Games Week, both of which contained rather disturbing and very violent scenes and this has had a lot of people discussing the type of content that publishers should be allowed to include in game trailers.
All of this discussion has led to many contemplating the question: should publishers/developers be using violence in video game trailers to sell their games?
This is a very difficult question to answer as there are several different opinions on the matter, both providing strong reasons as to why violence should or should not be used to sell or advertise video games.
Perhaps, the best way to answer this question would be to analyse this whole controversy and then determine exactly why some people were opposed to violence being used in these trailers as well as why some may believe that this response may have been an overreaction to the content.
What’s So Bad About The Last of Us Part 2 and Detroit Become Human Trailers?
As previously mentioned, Sony displayed new trailers for upcoming exclusives The Last of Us Part 2 (TLOU2) and Detroit Become Human at their Paris Games Week showcase last month, both of which contained acts of violence against traditionally marginalised or sensitive groups (women in the case of TLOU2 and a child in the case of Detroit Become Human.)
It must also be stated that these two trailers for as of yet unrated games (meaning no warnings about violent content appeared before the footage) were also displayed at a show that took place in the late afternoon in which some children were in attendance and was then also livestreamed to viewers at home that may have been disturbed by some of the content.
A lot of media attention has been placed on the social constructs of the characters being victimised in these two trailers, but personally, I do tend to believe that video game trailers overall tend to be non-discriminatory with regards to violence – it just so happens that in these two trailers violence against women and children was displayed.
In the TLOU2 trailer, the larger overarching problem identified is rather that there does not seem to be any context for the gratuitous acts of violence being witnessed by the viewer.
Basically, the trailer shows one woman about to be executed and then another being tortured, only to be saved by another individual in a surprise attack.
If a trailer is meant to show what a person can expect from a game, it really does seem that literally nothing can be learnt from this trailer other than the fact that the game will contain gratuitous violence in it and therein lies the problem.
In many other trailers that contain acts of violence, the violence is contextualised in some manner. For example, in the Battlefield 1 trailer, the very first scene is of a soldier getting beaten by a mace, but the whole situation is contextualised by the wartime setting and thus the idea of a fight for survival that is often associated with war is in the backdrop of one’s mind when watching it.
Naughty Dog, developers of The Last of Us series, has previously encountered some criticism for the use of violence within trailers of the first instalment into the series, with creative director, Neil Druckmann stating that the violence within the game wasn’t “over-the-top” but rather representative of the game-world in which the stakes for the characters were high and many did agree with this notion.
The difference between TLOU and TLOU2, however, is that the violence in the trailer for TLOU was contextualised – people understood why it need it to be there; something which isn’t apparent with the trailer for the sequel.
Having played The Last of Us and knowing the themes surrounding the game, such as the cost of self-preservation and the destruction of modern societal structures, one can only assume that the scene displayed in the TLOU2 trailer plays into that greater theme, but at the end of the day one doesn’t really know if it does or it doesn’t.
The Detroit: Become Human trailer contains content that is arguably somewhat more sensitive because it involves a parent harming a child and while the trailer indicates the nature of the title – the fact that your choices will affect the outcome of the game (a staple of other Quantic Dream games) – the content itself is still disturbing to some people.
There is no denying that other footage could probably have been used to advertise the game (as this has already happened) or illustrate this overall idea of choice having a severe impact on the game’s narrative.
Would other footage have been able to show just how much choice matters within the game? It’s debatable, but it’s always important to remember that footage depicting sensitive topics or ideas will always be scrutinized.
So, Should Violence Be Used In Video Game Trailers?
In defending the decision to show these two trailers, Jim Ryan the head of Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe did state that these titles are games made by adults and meant to be played by adults and thus tackle adult themes, which is a very fair statement.
These two games are filled with content only suitable for adults and thus can be marketed in a manner that befits this idea. However, at Paris Games Week no indication of the two trailers content was made available to the public (an age rating is generally provided on games) and thus it is understandable that some people were indeed angry about being made to watch content that they perhaps weren’t comfortable with.
Overall, it doesn’t seem as if most people have a problem with violent content within video game trailers as long as they are made aware of the fact prior to watching the actual trailer and there is some sort contextualisation for the actions taking place (the violence doesn’t seem completely random.)
Various titles have used violence within their trailers and have not necessarily been met with the same backlash, which does seem to suggest that this idea may be somewhat true.
Personally, I honestly don’t think much about violence within video game trailers; I pay more attention to the gameplay or narrative being presented in them.
I can honestly say that I don’t know if I would’ve been interested in TLOU2 if I hadn’t played its extremely well-received predecessor as the trailer does give one very little to go on in terms of both gameplay and narrative other than the fact that the game will be dark and violent.
It seems as if there is really no clear-cut answer as to whether game publisher/developers should be using violence in their trailers because a lot of people feel very differently on the matter and thus it’s a discussion that will probably pop up again in future.
So, what do you think? Should game developers/publishers be using violence in their game trailers? What do you think about The Last of Us Part 2 and Detroit: Become Human trailers? Did they overstep some boundaries? Please share in the comments down below.